ABOVE: Arts & Crafts furniture and cabinetmaker Greg Paolini at work in his shop outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
By different paths, these three woodworkers migrated to the mountains of western North Carolina—a hotspot for both traditional folk crafts and the Arts & Crafts revival.
The buffalo native would love to say he moved to the mountains west of Asheville “because of the Grove Park Inn and the fantastic Arts & Crafts scene here,” but it had more to do with the weather and a whim. Visiting one fall, “It was beautiful T-shirt weather, and we were heading back to an early snowstorm in Buffalo. My wife and I turned to each other and said, ‘You know, we could move here.’”
A woodworker since the 1980s—he taught himself the trade when he inherited some hand tools—Paolini set up shop in Waynesville in 2006. He has written numerous books and woodworking articles and regularly teaches classes. Known for his Morris chairs, he also does custom cabinetry, which has taken off in recent months. “In February, we’re starting an entirely Arts & Crafts house,” he says. He attributes demand to his strong work ethic and furniture-making skills: “We build cabinetry like most people build furniture, and we build furniture like nobody else.”
Gregory Paolini Design, Waynesville, NC: (828) 627-3948, gregorypaolini.com
The decision to move took eight or nine years, as Andrus journeyed from New Jersey to the Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn every February. He specializes in small home furnishings—mirrors, picture frames, and medicine cabinets—rather than larger pieces, because he likes working solo.
Early in his career, Mitch ran a shop making automotive upholstery, with all the usual headaches of managing a small business with employees. Thinking of a change to Arts & Crafts woodworking, he went to the Grove Park Inn show on the recommendation of Tommy McPherson, then the director of the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms. Andrus brought a few prototypes to the show, and within six months, the new business had taken off. Small can be beautiful, he says. “I send out about 500 and 600 pieces a year. I found my niche, and I’m very happy with it.” Plus, he says, his quality of life is better. “When I go to the grocery store, I pass cows and corn instead of strip malls and parking lots.”
Mitchell Andrus, Mission Furnishings, Mills River, NC: (908) 930-5583, missionfurnishings.com
He didn’t know he had talent, Brace claims, until he started working with Vermont furniture-maker William Laberge while still in high school. After a five-year apprenticeship, Brian found plenty of work creating high-end built-ins and entertainment centers in Florida, but very little of it was in the style that he loved. After two people mentioned Black Mountain on the same day, he took his family on a road trip and discovered his new home just a few miles from Asheville. “God’s honest truth, I did not even know that the Arts & Crafts Conference was here,” he says.
That was in 2010. At his first trip to the Conference, he made a connection with the Grovewood Gallery on the grounds of the Inn. The next year, the gallery made him the featured craftsman at one of their exhibitions.
Brian likes working in a variety of Arts & Crafts genres—especially “anything Greene & Greene because it’s challenging.” But he likes to tweak well-known elements to make them his own—for example, adding a full ebony inlay around the perimeter of a Greene & Greene-inspired desk, rather than the shorter splines found in the original. He says he finds it hard to balance the amount of work such complex pieces require and still offer them at an affordable price, but he’s found an appreciative audience. “I don’t have to teach people about furniture styles. They already know.”
Brian Brace Fine Furniture Maker, Black Mountain, NC: (828) 777-8184, finefurnituremaker.net